Effort Rewarded (USA Day 62)
Cycle touring takes so much effort. Thousands of burnt calories, many hours of concentration, patience, forced optimism, compromise. Because of this, when things go bad you wonder what it’s all for. When they go well, you feel an extraordinary sense of achievement.
It started with a challenge. Our peaceful city park camp spot had been interrupted at around two thirty by a gaggle of drunken teenage boys, screeching about on the swings and showing off their outdoor voices. We tolerated it, a little worried about our food and toiletries that we’d dutifully roped high in various playground equipment, but it all got a bit much when someone ran into our pavilion and started rooting around.
“What the f*** are you doing?” I roared, and the boy squeaked in shock. It makes you wonder what he thought a tent and two bikes were doing there, but either way there began an excited and worryingly silent section of the night where the boys snuck about, spying on us around corners and whispering. Eventually I put on my head-torch and climbed out, which prompted a retreat. Cowards.
Anyway, when our alarm went off a few hours later, our skulls and spines revolted and the pack-up was awful. Thirty miles and many hours later, the equilibrium of effort to reward was way off kilter. We’d followed our way north from Granby, up a gorgeous river valley with steep, wooded verges, shallow babbling rapids and dramatic pillars of rock. The problem with travelling upstream is that you’re pretty much constantly going gradually uphill. Of course, neither of our camping-addled brains had figured this out, so the demon of the false flats had struck and struck hard. We laboured over every pedal, grunting and panting. Was it the altitude? Was a wheel rubbing? Was I sugar-low? What was wrong with me? It was only after the exhaustion of our final energy bar, the turning of a corner and the sighting of a sign informing us that we’d just crested Willow Creek Pass and crossed the continental divide that we recognised our achievements.
And what’s the other side of a climb? A ten mile descent that took us out from the hills and into wide grassland whistling with a stiff breeze, a patchwork of clouds that looked worryingly grey, and a mile counter that finally started showing some progress.
Don’t think, like we did, that our day’s effort was over. As the landscape flattened, a horrendous crosswind whipped up, pushing a massive bank of thick black cloud right directly between us and our destination of Walden. These storms are localised: we could see the blue beyond, so a race began, us versus the sky. It was a worthy effort, but as the first raindrops fell and the jackets went on, the race became physical. The wind threatened to whip our front wheels off the road, and as we grappled hard with the handlebars our left sides were bombarded with horizontal icy rain. The blue beyond faded to grey. Visibility reduced to zero. I noticed that I had been screaming for some time, but I wasn’t sure what for. At some point, the combination of blurred eyes, stinging skin, wind-whipped wheels forced us to abandon our bikes and dive for cover in the boggy ditch where, blocked from the worst of the wind, the storm felt like merely a deluge.
It cleared. They always do. We clambered, muddy and sodden, from the ditch, to see the most phenomenal sky. To our right was a rainbow set against the block grey of a still-raging storm. To our left were criss-crossed sunrays like a badly-wiped chalkboard and a nest of clouds that couldn’t decide on a form pattern. Shell-shocked, we rode quietly along the empty, cratered roads, through the Arapahoe grassland reserve, and into Walden, to River Rock restaurant for hot chicken sandwiches, mountains of chips, bottomless coffee, a change of clothes, and roof over our heads, a weird, overcast sunset. We’re glowing. Effort rewarded.